Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:48 PM GMT on April 23, 2013
The mighty Mississippi River has surged to damaging major flood heights along a 200-mile stretch in western Illinois just north of St. Louis, Missouri. “We have seen some of the worst flooding damage to neighborhoods and homes across our state in Illinois history,” Governor Quinn said on Monday, and he declared 44 counties disaster areas. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency after flash flooding hit many areas of his state. The river has been closed to barge traffic along a 15-mile stretch near St. Louis since Saturday, when 114 barges broke loose from a fleeting area. Eleven barges containing coal sank. Approximately twelve locks on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers have been closed to shipping due to high water. The Mississippi River peaked at top-five flood heights in recorded history Sunday through Tuesday along the 200-mile section north of St. Louis, but is now falling. The flood crest has yet to come from St. Louis southwards, where the river will stay near crest for multiple days, due to 0.5 - 1.0" of rain expected to fall over most of Illinois, Missouri, and Indiana on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, the floods will not be as significant, ranking near the 10th highest floods on record near St. Louis. Flood records along the Mississippi extend back in time to the 1840s to 1940s, depending upon the location.
Figure 1. Thursday, April 18, 2013: Aerial photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows the dam in Marseilles, Ill., after seven barges broke free from a tow and came to rest against the dam. (AP Photo/Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 3rd Class John Schleicher.)
Record flooding ends in Illinois and Michigan
The National Weather Service recognizes four types of flooding: minor, moderate, major, and record. Major flooding is capable of causing significant damage, and moderate and minor flooding generally only cause isolated damage. Record flooding, of course, can cause record damage, and we had at least nineteen river gauges report record flooding during the April 2013 flood event. The record flooding has ended, and no more record flooding is expected this week. The record floods, as compiled by Dr. Greg Forbes of TWC:
Illinois River: at Peoria, IL; Henry IL; Morris IL; Ottawa IL; and LaSalle IL
Grand River at Comstock Park, MI
Rock River at Moline IL and Byron, IL (short record at the latter)
LaMoine River at Ripley, IL and Colmar, IL
Fox River at McHenry Lock and Dam, IL and Algonquin Tailwater, IL
Des Plaines River at Des Plaines and Riverside IL
Vermilion River at Leonore, IL
East Branch DuPage River at Bolingbrook, IL
Spoon River at Seville, IL
English River at Kalona, IA
North Branch Chicago River in Chicago, IL
Figure 2. Holy carp! A smallmouth bass checks out the interior of an office building in Riverfront Plaza, which was flooded by the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, MI, on Saturday, April 21, 2013. The Grand Rapids Public Museum is in the background. The picture was taken by Lynn Clay, director of network office supervision at Northwestern Mutual Financial Network in Grand Rapids. According to an interview with MLive.com, she was simply trying to take a photo of the flood when the fish swam into the frame. She didn’t even realize it until she saw the image later. The 110-year-old building, despite some leaking and soggy bottom level carpeting, survived the flooding in great shape, according to facilities staff.
Figure 3. Office building in Grand Rapids, Michigan where the fish photo was taken, as seen on Saturday, April 21, 2013. Image credit: GRNow.com. According to this thread on Facebook, the office building was built with aquarium glass.
More major Midwest spring flooding expected next week
A second round of major Midwest flooding is expected the last week of April and into early May, when the heavy snowpack in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin is expected to melt significantly, unleashing the equivalent of 4 - 8 inches of rainfall into the watersheds of the Red River of the North, Mississippi River, and Missouri River. Of particular concern is the flooding expected on the Red River of the North near Fargo, North Dakota, where flood heights will likely be among the top five in recorded history. Fortunately, the latest 2-week forecast from the GFS model shows only one significant rain-making storm affecting the region April 25 - May 7--a cold front that may produce about 0.5" of precipitation around April 30.
Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt summarized some of the rainfall and flooding records from the epic storm April 15 - 20 storm in his Sunday post.
Earth Week 2013
The general public think less than half of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. The reality is 97%. Dr. John Cook, Climate Change Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, explains the challenges of climate science communication in his contribution to our Earth Day 2013 microsite, "Closing the Consensus Gap on Climate Change."
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